Who Gives a Hulk? or, Mark Ruffalo is Okay as The Hulk, and other comic book and movie ramblings

This past weekend Mark Ruffalo was revealed as the new Bruce Banner and was in the panel featuring the upcoming stars of The Avengers.  When I first heard this news, I was disappointed (Mark Ruffalo, really?), especially considering how well Ed Norton played Banner (although I knew that his returning was a long shot).  I thought about it some more, however, and realized:  it doesn’t really matter.

The Incredible Hulk

Since 2003, Banner will now have been played by three actors:  Eric Bana (Hulk, 2003), Ed Norton (The Incredible Hulk, 2008), and now Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers, 2012).  If you don’t count any of the voice actors from the various animated series about The Hulk, Bill Bixby is the fourth Bruce Banner from the 1978-1982 The Incredible Hulk TV series.  Bixby was perfectly serviceable as Banner then; there was really nothing wrong with Bana’s performance, and Norton was fantastic.  Since they were all good as Banner, what then is the major difference?  The Hulk himself.

Lou Ferrigno was, of course, The Hulk in the TV series, and frankly he is the quintessential Incredible Hulk, if for no other reason than he actually was The Hulk, unlike Bana or Norton who were replaced with CGI Hulks.  What made Bana fail as Banner/The Incredible Hulk was ultimately Ang Lee, who made a simply awful movie.  The Incredible Hulk starring Norton was so successful because it didn’t suck in comparison to the film before it, and was in fact, good.  It featured some decent acting, but ultimately had good writing and direction and stayed true to the spirit of the comics.  Since The Avengers is a Marvel Entertainment product, as was The Incredible Hulk (2008), I really don’t think it matters who plays Banner, and Ruffalo should be fine, because Marvel is paying attention to the script, the directing, and the overall picture (for mass audiences, casual comic book readers and fanboys).  What ultimately matters is this latter point, and The Hulk himself.  Who really cared about Bill Bixby when there was Lou-freaking-Ferrigno?

Does it matter who is really behind that face? No. All that matters is: HULK! SMASH!

Let me illustrate my point by looking at some other comic book characters.

Batman

“Who are you?  I’m Batman.”

There have been many actors who have donned the Batman suit, but looking at modern movies you have Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and most recently, Christian Bale.  Bale has been lauded for the realistic Batman he’s portraying, but once again that has less to do with him, the actor, as it does with the writers and Christopher Nolan, the director.  In the comics, “Who Will Wear the Cowl?” was far more of an important question than it has been in the movies.  It really could be anyone with some decent acting ability in that suit.

Look at George Clooney compared to Michael Keaton.  As Bruce Wayne, Clooney hands down wins in fitting the comic book portrayal of the Bruce Wayne character – rich playboy, handsome, dashing, etc.  Michael Keaton? Really?  Neither Kim Basinger or Michelle Pfeiffer would have had anything to do with Keaton’s Bruce Wayne.  You can see hot journalists or hot messed-up-in-the-head thieves being with George Clooney, not Keaton.  However, in restrospect, Keaton’s Batman films were far superior to Kilmer’s or Clooney’s.  Why?  Because by the time Clooney and Kilmer took over the cowl the films had gone from Tim Burton’s whacked out, but still in touch with the comics, versions to campy “comic” book movies.   The Jim Carrey Riddler, the Ahnold Mr. Freeze, and of course, Clooney’s Bat-Nipples, took away from The Batman, which is why Nolan’s new Batman films have been so well recieved – strong writing, strong directing, strong acting (at least from Heath Ledger), and a commitment to creating a film that draws from, and also pays homage to, the darker, grittier, more realistic side of the Batman comics.

"Holy Nipples, Batman!"

Thor and Captain America

It will be interesting to see how Thor (2011) and Captain America (2011) turn out.  Thor hasn’t had a film or TV adaptation before, and what has been made of Captain America shouldn’t even be viewed, so there really are no prior cinematic or TV experiences to compare them to (though all Iron Man had was animated series before it, and it turned out fantastic).   I’m far more excited (and hopeful) about Captain America, and not only because Ed Brubaker’s contemporary run on the comic book series (2004-present) is one of the best comics I’ve ever read.

Chris Evans may just turn out to be amazing, despite him not necessarily being an obvious choice (and by the way Hugo Weaving as Red Skull is simply brilliant).  I could easily see him pulling off Hawkeye in The Avengers (a role that has gone to Jeremy Renner), but perhaps this is what will make Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America amazing.   He will have to work at it, and he just might make it his own.  That he will be wearing a mask will help, since as Captain America, his face will be partially hidden (just like the CGI Hulk makes whoever the actor is less consequential), and then it comes down to his take on the character and his acting ability to make the part work, especially how he interprets the non-costumed role of Steve Rogers.  Someone like Human Target‘s Mark Valley would have been the far more obvious choice to play Steve Rogers (he looks so much like the character from the comics that it is scary), but I now I’m a true believer that Evans acting skills and personality will make his Steve Rogers much more believable and interesting.

Based on the images, Thor could be Marvel’s giant misstep in its film endeavors (that and not getting back the X-Men and Spider-Man film rights from 20th Century Fox and Sony, respectively).  What has so far worked for Marvel Entertainment’s films is that they have been very based in modern reality.  Updating Iron Man to involve terrorism in Afghanistan was a masterstroke and The Incredible Hulk basically dealt with genetic testing and other contemporary concerns.  Likewise, they were based in believable science fiction.  Thor, however, deals with fantasy and magic.  Plus, the character of Thor, unlike The Hulk and Iron Man hasn’t really seen much screen time (unless you count Adventures in Babysitting (1987), which I hope you don’t.  Interesting aside, did you know that was Vincent D’Onofrio playing Dawson/Thor?), and is relatively unknown to mass audiences in his Marvel character state.

I’m hopeful for Kenneth Branagh’s take, but I think the film will be a hard sell, and the images make me think more of Flash Gordon (1980) than other contemporary fantasies that the public have embraced, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series, or even Clash of the Titans (2010), which I think would be the best type of fantasy route for Thor to take.

"Thor! Ahhh-ahhhh! God of Thunder!" If only Freddie Mercury was alive and Queen could do the soundtrack. AC/DC did the soundtrack to Iron Man 2, so why not?

Superman

Christopher Reeve is the iconic version of Superman, and for his time the TV version of Superman, played by George Reeves was, as well.  Neither quite had the over-the-top physical stature of the comic book hero, but they nailed the humble, everyman nature of Clark Kent and the just, noble, and yes, somewhat campy, superhero.  Brandon Routh had virtually the same things going for him when he played the character in Superman Returns (2006), but he didn’t work as Superman, or Clark Kent, because the movie simply wasn’t good.  Somehow, Bryan Singer was able to tap into the core of the X-Men history, mythology and character building with X-Men and X2, but with Superman Returns there was something just wrong with the way the character was treated and the story that was presented.

The other TV versions of Superman, Dean Cain’s turn in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993) and Tom Welling in the soon-t0-be ending Smallville (2001-present), are both interesting takes on the character, and ultimately, in their own ways, far superior to Routh’s.  I actually think Smallville may have hurt Superman Returns by having two different Clark Kent’s at one time, and I also believe that it would be in DC’s best interest to turn Welling into the new film Superman when the show ends, blending the Smallville universe into the DC film continuity (the same continuity as other upcoming DC films such as Green Lantern (2011), The Flash (speculated), The Justice League (speculated, and would be to DC’s film universe as The Avengers will be to Marvel’s).  Welling is likeable and serviceable as Clark Kent/Superman, plus he has brand-recognition with the past 9 years success with the WB/CW show.

Iron Man

The suit makes the man.

Robert Downey, Jr. since he has pretty much become Tony Stark in the hearts and minds of the public.  But that is the thing.  Robert Downey, Jr. is Tony Stark.  Iron Man is just a suit.  For comparison, from  Iron Man (2008) to Iron Man 2 (2010), the actor playing the character of James “Rhodey” Rhodes was changed from Terrence Howard to Don Cheadle.  Howard definitely has more of a military bad-ass look about him in keeping with the portrayal in the comics, compared to Don Cheadle.

But, that really doesn’t matter.  When the faceplate snaps down on War Machine, it could be anyone, or no one, in the metal suit.  War Machine isn’t any one person.  It is the War Machine suit that makes War Machine.

Does it really matter who behind that faceplate? No. All that matters is War Machine is pointing a Gattling Gun at your head.

Wolverine

For the mass public, Hugh Jackman is Logan, or Wolverine. The films in which he has portrayed Wolverine have been so successful with mainstream viewers, that it becomes difficult to take him out of the role and replace him with another actor.  This is why it is has even been discussed that he may be in X-Men: First Class (2011), and he will, of course be in X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2, whenever that is released.  It is also why he was the only saving grace in X-Men: the Last Stand (2006), a film which demonstrates how badly the director and writers can screw up (if only Bryan Singer had stayed on and made it instead of Superman Returns). For the regular public, I think it would be very hard to not have Jackman as Wolverine, even though in many ways he is far from the comic book character.  Look at his height, for instance.  Hugh Jackman is 6’2″ tall.  Logan is around 1′ shorter in the comics.  Jackman is Australian; Logan is Canadian.  But Jackman still nails Wolverine.

Part of this is the way the movies have handled the character, and Jackman’s simple brilliance at acting the role.  One thing the movies have not done is put Wolverine in a mask.  Like Christopher Reeve, whose only facial costume was a pair of glasses to disguise himself as Clark Kent, Jackman became the face of the character Logan or Wolverine.   He did have a hero costume, but also like Superman’s it had no mask – the black leather of the X-Men trilogy, which was reminiscent of the art direction during Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s run on New X-Men – but he’s never had a mask in the films.  In the comics, while he has frequently not worn a costume, his major suits are quite defining as to the character, and they have masks which reveal none of his facial features beyond his frequently scowling mouth.  Recently, he’s donned a slick black suit for his wet works operations with X-Force, while his classic Yellow/Blue suit means he’s on X-Men duty, and the Brown/Orange is for personal escapades.

Jackman, however, can be in a white wife beater and still be Wolverine, and it’s not just the hair do (though they did that pretty well).  The lack of costumes in the movies, the massive success of the movies, and the regular public’s acceptance of Jackman have fixed him as the main idea of Wolverine.  Do a Google Image search for “wolverine” and the images of Jackman are far more prevalent than any from the comics or other art (compare this to a search for “superman” which has far more illustrated and artistic images than those of Christopher Reeve or any of the other film or TV actors).

Conclusion

In conclusion, I think that what it comes down to is this:  in the movies it is far more important that the superheroic version of the character (ie, The Hulk not Bruce Banner) is done right, if that character does not look like its human alter-ego (whether because of a transformation or a mask).  On the other hand, if the human character (Tony Stark, for instance) is a main focus, then the actor really matters more and their portrayal becomes synonymous with the character.  This is especially true for the masses of non-comic book reading people that see the movies only, and do not have prior experience with the stories and characters.

I also believe, that for comic book readers it is almost a non-issue for the actor to change from movie to movie, or reboot to reboot of a film franchise.  Comic book readers have the benefit of seeing artists change, and the visual portrayal, which is ultimately vital to the comic book format, of the characters differs based on the artists’ decisions, talents and style of work.

For the comic book reader, it seems that in both the comic book format and the film format, that the writing and directing has a great deal more impact on their reception to the work.  While artists may change the way Wolverine’s face looks without the mask, or eventually when Hugh Jackman has aged beyond the ability to play the non-aging Logan and a new actor becomes Wolverine, if the writers, editors and directors of the comics and movies remain true to the story of the character, maintain an honor for what has come before, and produce a quality product, it will be well received.

J1C2 – U/R Standard Deck – Magic: the Gathering

First thing you Magic players looking at this are going to think is, “WTF, why’s old Jace the only Jace here?”

J1C2 – U/R Standard Deck

Spells (27)

  • 4x Lightning Bolt
  • 4x Stagger Shock (or Burst Lightning)
  • 4x Runeflare Trap
  • 2x Reverberate
  • 4x Mana Leak
  • 4x Negate
  • 3x Jace’s Erasure
  • 2x Redirect

Planeswalkers (6)

  • 3x Jace Beleren
  • 3x Chandra Ablaze

Artifacts

  • 4x Temple Bell

Lands (23)

  • 3x Island
  • 4x Halimar Depths
  • 8x Mountain
  • 4x Scalding Tarn
  • 3x Dread Statuary
  • 1x Tectonic Edge

Sideboard

  • 4x Goblin Ruinblaster
  • 3x Devastating Summons
  • 2x Spell Pierce (or Flash Freeze)
  • 4x Spreading Seas
  • 2x Treasure Hunt

Well, the main idea is, I’ve wanted to use Runeflare Trap for a long time.   In the Super Villains Deck, I was running a pair of Runeflare Trap main deck with all the Howling Mines that the deck was running.  Along comes M11, and replaces Howling Mine with Temple Bell.  And guess what?  For Runeflare Trap, this is actually better! Now, rather than letting your opponent get tons of cards all the time, you can decide to let them draw multiple cards only when you want them to!  In other words, when you have a Runeflare Trap in hand!  Same deal with the poor man’s Jace.  Good ol’ Jace Beleren, who’s been scoffed at since he was given a $6 million upgrade, does the same thing as Temple Bell, so he makes Runeflare Trap work, too!  Throw in a few Jace’s Erasures and you’re punishing your opponent twice for the joy of card drawing.

Chandra Ablaze is the other counterpart to this deck.  Some cheap red burn spells get the punishment started, but hopefully you’ll get to make better use of them after Chandra gets in play.  That Lightning Bolt does 4 damage instead of 3 with her first ability, and her ultimate lets you play them all again.  Her second ability, however, plays really well with (wait for it) ….Runeflare Trap!

Not as cool as it could be.

I really wish Destructive Force did damage to players, in addition to, or even instead of, creatures (Earthquake it is not, though Earthquake wouldn’t work with Chandra’s ultimate).  Destructive Force would be a hell of a finishing card if it hit players, especially if you were able to use Chandra to play it: +1 Discard Destructive Force to deal 4 damage, -7 Blow everything and everyone up!  Unfortunately, it doesn’t do all of that.  What the deck is missing is a huge Mortal Kombat “FINISH HIM!” type fatality.  I’m not sure it needs it.  Hell, you might mill your opponent before you even finish them off with Runeflare Trap or other burn.

What I see as negatives for this deck.  No creatures.  An opponent playing a weenie build would probably hit really fast and really hard.  My hope is that the cheap burn and counter magic would hold off the opposition long enough, but I’m not sure.  Thoughts?

Music: Bandcamp Discoveries

I like the site Bandcamp.  Seems like a great place for musicians to share their work, for free or fee, with the world.  Nice site design, as well.  Of course, what I really like is that many musicians are actually sharing their music for free, and quite a bit of it is really good.

ezequiel ezequiel:  Winter Rise & Sun Dance/Cocoon

One of the best new music discoveries I’ve made in a long time.  Beautiful, haunting, songs.  Indie, sort of Thom Yorke-ish, vocals combined with soft, lush electronics, mild distortion, bells and guitars.  “Cocoon,” the “b-side” for “Sun Dance”, is Bjork cover.  Since I haven’t listened to any Bjork post-Homogenic, I didn’t have a comparison to make until after I heard ezequiel ezequiel’s version.  Now that I watched the video, I can honestly say I like the cover much more, especially since Bjork’s video was very disturbing.

Leonard Dstroy:  Higher Vibrations

Funked-up, glitched-out, hip-hop soul-tronica.  This is what the future (current) sound of hip-hop production should sound like.  Only needs some vocal collaborators, perhaps a Cee-Lo type vocalist (ala Gnarls Barkley) or a straight out rapper.  Jay-Z could bring this mainstream for sure, but some indie rapper would be pretty cool too.  On tracks such as “Trying to Find My Way” Leonard Dstroy opts more the Cee-Lo route, with Reggie B’s soulful vocal stylings warped over the cracked out beat.   “Higher Frequency” goes the other direction with raps from Brother of Moses, and this proves to be far more effective.  Luckily, we get to see what happens when both are combined on closing track “Hypnotized” which features both vocalists.  Hot tracks to check out from the free album download:  “Sunset Marquis,” “Latitude,” “Onde (Get Live),” “Hypnotized feat. Reggie B. & Brother of Moses.”

Xerxes: Selected Works – Jorgen Bryde

Some really cool, fairly chill electronica.  Reminds me in some ways of my friend Andrew’s musical output.  Stand out tracks:  “Eventyr (Intro)” which evokes a wind-up music box lullaby, “Frozen,” “Upperhand,” and “The Day We Met.”

Vision Eternel

Shimmery, chiming, contemplative post-rock, without the bombast or crazy free-form exploration of Godspeed You Black Emperor, Mogwai, or Explosions in the Sky.  Instead, the tracks on the several albums available to download are variations of individual songs or instrumental vignettes, or perhaps they are simply musical ideas thrown into the digital ether that is the internet.  For instance, Abondance de perils, has five “Thoughts as [fill-in-the-blank]” tracks which are all iterations of one guitar melody with varied additional instruments and altered arrangements.  Recommended tracks:  “Thoughts as Obstacles,” “Thoughts as Naivety,” “Love Within Restriction,” and “Season in Absence.”

Frost Titan Deck Idea – Magic: the Gathering

@the_stybs sent out a challenge via Twitter the other day for Frost Titan deck ideas.

Here’s what I came up with:

Creatures (11)
4x Frost Titan
1x Lorthos the Tidemaker
2x Stormtide Leviathan
2x Lullmage Mentor
2x Clone

Spells  (22)
3x Redirect
2x Mass Polymorph
1x Rite of Replication
4x Mana Leak
2x Negate
2x Deprive
4x Spreading Seas
2x Wind Zendikon

Artifacts (3)
1x Sword of Vengeance
2x Temple Bell

Lands (24)
4x Halimar Depths
20 Island

Sideboard (15)
4x Paralyzing Grasp
2x Negate
1x Redirect
4x Flashfreeze
2x Augury Owl
2x See Beyond

Key things about the deck:

  • This is all post M10/Alara rotation Standard.
  • I wanted to play off Frost Titan’s tapping things ability more, but didn’t quite work it into the main deck.  Paralyzing Grasps are in the sideboard as a defensive card, and to keep things tapped, simply because I like the idea of it.
  • I like the idea of using Redirect to target Frost Titan with opponent’s spells.
  • The Lullmage Mentors make Merfolk dudes when spells and the Titan counters stuff, and the Clones become copies of the Mentors or the heavy hitters once they are out, and the Mentors and Clones become Mass Polymorph fodder, along with the Wind Zendikons.  Mass Polymorph is just crazy and seems like it will be fun, but it’s not the main route for things.  Since we’re not splitting colors, I think hardcasting the big guns won’t be too hard.
  • I added a Lorthos because he likes to tap things too.
    And he’s a bad ass.
  • Spreading Seas is a star of a card.  Let’s you draw a card, slows down your opponents if they aren’t playing blue, and lets your Stormtide Leviathans run rampant.
  • I have a singleton Sword of Vengeance here because frankly how awesome is it?  And a Frost Titan needs to be swinging a giant friggin’ sword.  Plus, the Titan has now “kapow” abilities when attacking besides tapping stuff, so making him 8/6 First Strike, Vigilance, Trample, Haste is pretty sick.
  • Honestly, there should be Jace TMS in here, but I hate how $expensive$ he is.  Take out what you will to add your playset of the guy, but I only own one.  When I build this, I think I will take out one Spreading Seas to put my solo Jace 2.0 in.

Interview with Andrew Sutherland, aka Secret School

Last time we checked in with my friend Andrew, it was to interview him about the free EP release of The Modern Things by band of the same name (The Modern Things are tracks still available for free download here).  That was almost two years ago.  Since then much has happened in Andrew’s life, including marriage, a blog endeavor with his wife, and a daring new musical project he’s dubbed Secret School.

Andrew Sutherland, image from http://www.secretschoolmusic.com

For those familiar with Andrew’s prolific solo musical output over the past 15 or so years, you will not be surprised by the high quality of the music of Secret School, nor its electronic origins.  What may surprise you, however, is the vocal presence of Andrew himself, as well as the rather pop-oriented song structures.  This isn’t Drum and Bass, this isn’t Folktronica, nor is it IDM, Glitch, Ambient, Trip Hop, Jungle, or the sort of IDB that has permeated Andrew’s work.  This is pop music.

Over the course of my familiarity with Andrew’s music, he has ranged from extreme ambient drones to hard-edged industrial to funky dance grooves, and with these evolutions have come some songs that were extremely catchy and accessible to some sounds that were violently harsh on the ears or too niche for the average listener.  There was never a loss in the quality of his craft, however, despite the music not being for everyone.  With Secret School he combines his musicianship with a pop-sensibility that is exciting, and inviting to the masses.

Which is important since Secret School is intended to be live.  In a bold move, Andrew has made live performance a major facet of the Secret School project.   Secret School recently performed at Enormous Room in Boston, photos of which can be viewed at Foundwaves and here.  Stepping out of the solitary studio environment and into the public spotlight is helping to shape the music as he creates it, and several songs have seen many iterations as he has performed them and altered them specifically for live performance.  I highly recommend following the Running Double blog, checking out Secret School on Facebook and MySpace, checking the Secret School website frequently as the songs available to download (free!) have changed as he has updated them, showing his work in progress.

FREE TRACKS!

Secret School Rehearsals, image by Cara Sutherland

And now on to the interview

Tell me about the new project.

Secret School is a solo project I started a few months ago. It’s inspired by indie rock, dance music, and a bunch of other stuff. It’s really a way for me to get some songs out there and try and play out live.

Why now?  What has changed since The Modern Things?

Well, Dan, the guitar wizard in TMT moved out to San Diego to pursue a degree in architecture, so we never had a chance to really push the live thing. We all got on with our lives, three of the four of us got or are getting married, one of us had a kid, some of us bought houses, etc. So, I guess yeah, pretty much everything has changed since The Modern Things. What didn’t change was writing – I kept recording, although more and more of my music ended up being electronic, more based in dance music.

I’ve always wanted to do a show by myself, just me and some gear, maybe some vocals. So here I am, trying it out.

Where did the name Secret School come from?

It’s a book by Whitley Strieber. The guy claims he’s been visited by aliens – Secret School refers to a collective of children who would meet at night in rural Texas with these beings. Haven’t read the book, but I love the name, I love the sound of it.  [for more info on Whitley Streiber check out his webpage, Unknown Country – JC]

Where do you draw inspiration from for Secret School music?

Musically, there are a ton of new artists I’ve been getting into – Washed Out, Forest Swords, Active Child, Delorean, Baths – these guys are coming out with some really fresh stuff. I got away from getting into new music for a long time, and now it’s like this crazy flood all of a sudden. I’m loving so much of what’s coming out right now, and I’ve been really motivated to just put stuff out there, see what happens. I think there’s a movement in this genre to be real – to not worry about sound quality and process and all that, to just get music out there that’s straight from the gut. I’m into that right now. Only with a laptop.

I think what influences my musical sensibilities most though is electronic music that has a lot of heart – where you can tell it came from a place that really meant something to the creator. I cut my teeth on Bjork and Aphex Twin back in the day – stuff that was so full of emotion that it was hard to believe they were using computers to make it. It’s out there, but still pop.

What instruments and tools are you using to create Secret School’s music?

I’m using Ableton Live to play out – it’s been a total dream. It’s the first time I feel like I can really manipulate and play my music live… I write + record in Logic Pro, but Ableton is definitely the muscle behind the live show.

I’m trying to teach myself guitar, so almost all of the tracks have some sort of manipulated guitar on them. I do a lot of mangling of the sounds in Logic and Ableton, and I have some funky outboard gear to mash things up. Obviously I’m a big fan of synths, so big giant synth stuff is all over the place. (We have a friend who has probably the most amazing collection of analog synths and gear on the east coast. No lie, this guy has a museum. If I finally get over there to hang out, I’m afraid I’ll never leave.)

One trick I’ve been using is keeping a mic on in the room, ready to record finger snaps or tambourine or crinkling paper, whatever.

The thing I’ve tried to keep as a rule though is that it has to be done live, so nothing is too sequenced. Everything is laid out so I can control it, and most of the recordings are of me actually playing the stuff live in Ableton, then singing over the top later.

Secret School Live at Enormous Room, June 22 - Photo by Matthew Mittelstadt

You are making a commitment to this being a “live” project.  Is this daunting?  What is playing live like for you?  What do you hope your audience takes from a Secret School live experience?  What tools are you using during your live shows?

Getting ready to play live has been an amazing challenge. I’ve been recording this kind of stuff in my bedroom since high school, so it’s nice to have an outlet where the only purpose is to get up in front of people and just do it. But yeah, daunting is the right word.

I played my first show on June 22 at Enormous Room in Cambridge, and it went really well… it was a cool vibe. The club usually hosts DJs, so it was perfect. We had lots of visuals projected that were timed to some of the music, and we had a little dancing happening. My goal is to put out something unique and new, something that the audience can tell is sincere, and bring some groove. If Brian Eno and George Clinton played a show together, maybe that would be it. Whatever happens, I’m having a blast. Hopefully that’s what that audience feels too.

Tea Party Boston (Supertonic) called Secret School an “organic” and “humanized” version of electronic music. I would say that is an apt description.  I see (historically speaking) electronic-based music to have a…perhaps overproduced?…quality to it,a Mutt Lange aspect to the drums and beats.  It has been almost as if electronic music existed solely “in studio” and not in the “real world,” even when considering live DJ shows (since they are rarely creating on the fly).  Is it your intent to remove that impression from electronic music, or would you say the your sound comes more about simply from the live recording methods you are using?

I see what you’re saying. I don’t know if I’m out to change any impressions or anything – I love some of that overproduced stuff! I tend to over think my music, so it’s nice to just put tracks out there that’s really aimed at playing live. It’s like simplifying the process has made it a lot more fun.

Rather than sampling vocal bits or using guest vocalists, you’re writing and singing yourself.  What’s that like for you? If taking the step to performing live was already a big one, I can only imagine that putting yourself out there that much more could be…anxiety inducing, but also ultimately revealing, or perhaps cathartic?

It’s definitely been more revealing than anxiety inducing. I’ve been singing for a long time, mostly behind other people, but I’m pretty used to my voice. It’s absolutely forced me to think about songs differently. I still love using vocal samples, whatever feels right, but using my own voice has been a challenge in that I have to write to my own limitations. I guess what I’m saying is I’m not a very good singer, so I have to be clever to make it sound OK.

What is the inspiration for your lyrics? “Goodbye Party”, for example.  Is that about an actual experience you have had?

That song, and a few others, are about getting older, looking back and realizing that a whole decade went by. Also, I’m at a place in my life where I’m completely happy and stable, more than any other time in my life, but there’s always a nostalgia for the past, or regrets about what I never did. Some of the lyrics speak to that weird place of being really secure, but somehow a little uncomfortable with that.

I’m a huge fan of artists covering the work of others and reinterpretation.  Any plans for that in your live shows?

Totally. Working on a Peter Gabriel cover right now. I feel like I’m treading on hallowed ground, but I don’t care – the song is too funky not to cover it.

You are co-authoring the Running Double blog with your wife Cara, and she’s been doing the graphic design work, as well as photo and video documentation for Secret School.  When it comes to creating visual representations of your sonic output, do you just let Cara work her magic, or is there a specific plan for creating this side of the musical project?

Oh it’s all her. I let her run with it, and she’s totally in control. She has the most amazing eye, and somehow just picks up exactly what the music is supposed to look like. I couldn’t be luckier.

Who came up with and created the hilarious video posted recently on Running Double?  Since I was unable to attend the event at Enormous Room, perhaps some explanation of how this and other videos are incorporated into your performance would be useful.

Right! Cara did that too. In fact, she put together all the projected visuals for the show. That literally came from us looking up aerobics videos from the 80s. We found a competition hosted by Alan Thicke sponsored by Crystal Light, and the performers were just so into it. That one guy is really throwing it all out there, I totally love that. It fits the song really well too. Every song during the show has it’s own little video – most of them we pulled from DVDs we bought at this amazing Indian dollar store. Some of them are early Japanese Sci-Fi, some are from 80s action movies, just really kitchy stuff.

When can we expect an official Secret School release, and subsequent world conquering?

Soon… If I do a release I want to make it really special. For now, free is the word. I probably won’t conquer the world, but it might be nice to play some of my favorite clubs in Boston, like Great Scott or Middle East.

My major gripe with the Secret School tracks is their length.  Why are they so short!?  Quite often I feel like the track as it stands (most notably Ars Nova, Cold Medication) are intros to what could be a much longer, perhaps more fleshed-out, track.  Any thoughts on these being expanded in their final, maybe album, format?

Absolutely. Most of them actually came from longer tracks, but just worked as little snippets. I did a lot of writing for TV commercials in the last few years, which forced me to get ideas crammed into 28 seconds. I’m really into brevity right now. 🙂

Future live shows?

Yes, more coming soon…

What’s next for Secret School, and you?

Shows, more free music, and I might try and run a 5K sometime soon.

Andrew Recommends

Some great albums and EPs I’m really into right now:

BathsCerulean
DeloreanSubiza
TanlinesSettings” EP
Broken BellsBroken Bells
Washed OutLife of Leisure” EP
DeastroMoondagger
The PresetsApocalypso
Local NativesGorilla Manor
Mystery Roaranything you can get, check it out!
BibioAmbivalence Avenue
School of Seven BellsAlpinisms
LusineA Certain Distance
Telefon Tel AvivMap of What is Effortless
BonoboBlack Sands

Links to Secret School on the interwebs

Super Villains: Magic: the Gathering Standard Deck

Chandra Ablaze

Super Friends (or UWR Planeswalkers) has been making an impact on Standard recently.  My problem with Super Friends is that it’s A) really expensive (running all of the highest priced Planeswalkers) and B) all about the good guys.

So, here’s my response:  Super Villains.  I’ve seen other decks called Super Villains, but none seemed to really embrace not using Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Ajani Vengeant, (or Elspeth, or Gideon) for the most part, and some were even running Baneslayer Angel (who, thematically, is not a villain, unless you consider her price to be villainous).

The Planeswalkers here are on the lower end of the price spectrum for Magic’s new figurehead characters.   You can get the entire Planeswalker suite for this deck on Star City Games for just a bit more than the going price of ONE(!) Jace, the Mind Sculptor.  Sarkhan the Mad is the priciest, and I’m not sure the deck “needs” to run him, but he’s so cool, in such a wickedly twisted insane evil way.

Super Villains

Planeswalkers (8)

  • 3x Chandra AblazeSarkhan the Mad
  • 3x Liliana Vess
  • 2x Sarkhan the Mad

Creatures (6)

  • 4x Runed Servitor
  • 2x Slavering Nulls

Spells (22)

  • 4x Blightning
  • 2x Terminate
  • 2x Bituminous Blast
  • 4x Lightning Bolt
  • 2x Burning Inquiry
  • 2x Burst Lightning
  • 2x Runeflare Trap
  • 4x Megrim

Artifacts (3)

  • 3x Howling Mine

Lands (21)

  • 4x Dragonskull Summit
  • 4x Lavaclaw Reaches
  • 4x Akoum Refuge
  • 2x Bojuka Bog
  • 5x Mountain
  • 2x Swamp

Sideboard (15)

  • 2x Consume the Meek
  • 2x Goblin Ruinblaster
  • 4x Duress
  • 4x Corrupted Zendikon
  • 2x Terminate
  • 1x Sarkhan the Mad

About the Deck:

The Super Villains (Planeswalkers)

Liliana VessOne of the main things I’m going for here is to use Chandra Ablaze’s second ability with Megrim (Liliana’s Caress post-M11) in play.  Plus, there are plenty of red sorceries and instants, if somehow you get to use her ultimate. Liliana Vess, well, she makes people discard, plain and simple.  Plus, with all the stuff that should be in your opponent’s graveyard, playing her ultimate would be devilishly awesome.  Sarkhan the Mad acts as personal tutoring, but it’s really his second ability that I love, hence  the Runed Servitors and Slavering Nulls as sacrifice fodder, as well as chump blockers.  As I said, I’m not sure he needs to be in this deck.  It might be “safer” to run a more strict B/R discard build here without him.  In that case, I would probably do 4x Slavering Nulls and also possibly 4x Hypnotic Specter (probably moving to Liliana’s Specter post-M11).  4x Duress would also be a good option.

The Other Cards

Until Alara Block rotates out if you’re playing B/R you pretty much have to run Blightning, and also Bituminious Blast.  Blightning is great on its own, and then if you have a Megrim out, you’re looking at 7 damage plus 2 cards from one card.  Plus, they’re red so you can might get to throw them at your opponent again with Chandra’s ultimate.  Post Alara rotation, I’d probably run some Duress here (as long as they reappear in M11).  Runeflare Trap is one of those cards that I’ve wanted a reason to play with.  There are multiple opportunities to force your opponent to draw several cards in a turn in this deck, so I wanted to run at least 2.  I almost put in a full playset.  I still might and drop the 2x Burning Inquiry, but that also works quite well with Megrim.  More likely, I will drop the 2x Slavering Nulls to have 4x Runeflare Trap.

Mana Base

I’ll admit it:  I’m not good at calculating mana bases.  So, 21 lands may be too few, or it may be too many.  Any help here would be useful.

Other thoughts

I toyed with the idea of running 4x Bloodghast and 4x Grim Discovery, without the Slavering Nulls and possibly without the Runed Servitors.  I like the idea of repeatedly bringing back the Bloodghasts after sacrificing them to Sarkhan the Mad.  I also like the idea of using Corrupted Zendikon in this way, perhaps instead of Grim Discovery, because the sacrificed land-creature would bounce the land back to hand so as to activate the Bloodghast landfall trigger (much like I wanted to do with Wind Zendikon in my Polymorph Deck).  Another possible creature for this deck was Hellfire Mongrel, but I wasn’t entirely convinced it would be useful with the significant card drawing that would be happening, both because of Howling Mine and Chandra’s second ability.

Allied Variant

I’ve tossed around some ideas for variants on this deck, including one that runs Allies.  I don’t think it’s all that competitive, but it could be fun.

Super Villains v.2:  Allied Super Villain Team-Up

Planeswalkers (8)

  • 3x Chandra Ablaze
  • 3x Liliana Vess
  • 2x Sarkhan the Mad

Creatures (11)Bala Ged Thief

  • 3x Bala Ged Thief
  • 3x Agadeem Occultist
  • 1x Hagra Diabolist
  • 3x Akoum Battlesinger
  • 1x Kazuul Warlord

Spells (21)

  • 4x Blightning
  • 2x Terminate
  • 2x Bituminous Blast
  • 4x Lightning Bolt
  • 4x Burst Lightning
  • 4x Megrim

Lands (21)

  • 4x Dragonskull Summit
  • 4x Lavaclaw Reaches
  • 4x Akoum Refuge
  • 2x Bojuka Bog
  • 5x Mountain
  • 2x Swamp

Sideboard (15)

  • 2x Consume the Meek
  • 2x Goblin Ruinblaster
  • 4x Duress
  • 4x Staggershock
  • 2x Terminate
  • 1x Sarkhan the Mad

Ezekiel 25:17 – Magic: the Gathering Vintage Deck

“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides with the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.  Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.  And I will strike down upon those with great vengeance and with furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers.  And you will know that my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”

-Samuel L. Jackson, as Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction

Death's Shadow

Update:  On the Magic Online Trading League site, I received some praise for this deck:  “the fun (or cool) factor of this deck is off the charts” and that it is “the very essence of what a black deck is meant to be.”  Awesome!

When Death’s Shadow was first spoiled, I almost soiled my pants.  I like cards that have a cool factor to them, and frankly the double 13s and the single mana casting cost definitely were cool to me.  Sure, it has a draw back that you have to be low in life for those 13s, or anything high number, to actually be in effect, but it’s Black.  Isn’t that what Black is about?

This deck was simply super fun to play at my last get together of casual players.  It definitely came out of left field and made a statement.  It does not work so well in multiplayer, but one on one it can hold its own.  I doubt it’s competitiveness in Vintage tournament play, but, I thought I’d throw it out there for you.

Any suggestions for some really cool, but especially really FUN, things to add to this, let me know in the comments.  For instance, I’d like to add Hall of the Bandit Lord, just for kicks, but I need a way to filter the colorless mana into Black mana, perhaps some Initiates (Bog or Ebon Hand), .  Or perhaps a Tomb of Urami, without running any ogres.

Ezekiel 25:17

Spells (27)

Creatures (8)

Artifacts (1)

Lands (24)

“Even  though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”  – Psalm 23

Plunge Into Darkness

You can’t be afraid when playing this deck. Go for it, take the “plunge.”  It’s a bit of a rush to first turn drop a Swamp, two Dark Rituals, a Lurking Horror, sacrifice it so you’re down to 10, then drop two Death’s Shadows on the table.  Sure, they’re only 3/3 at that point, but when your next turn is Swamp and Plunge into Darkness?  “I pay 9 life, get a card, swing for 28.  Yeah, there’s a Horror flying at you too, you know, just because.”   Bammo.

Some of the cards are truly unneccesary.  You don’t really need Platinum Angel or Lich’s Tomb, but if for some strange reason you haven’t won or lost by your third turn, they can be crazy fun to have in play so that your Death’s Shadows become HUGE.  Death Wish is another just silly fun card, though I have no idea what I would ever search for with it.  Sometimes when you’re running a suicide mission, there just aren’t many options out there to save you.

I keep considering adding Pestilence to this deck, because it hurts your opponent (and importantly you) and clears other creatures off the board while your Death’s Shadows get bigger.  We’ll see.

One of the cool thing about several of the cards in the deck are their ability to drop your life total into  13/13 Death’s Shadow range and also let you search for the beast.   Infernal Contract and Plunge Into Darkness, for example.  If I owned any Vampiric Tutors, Cruel Tutors, or Cruel Bargains, they would all definitely be in there, and this is what they would do:

“I want you to go in that bag and find my wallet.”
“Which one is it?”
“It’s the one that says Bad Motherfucker.”

Bad MF Death's Shadow